Geography and Landforms:

Washington is bordered by Canada in the north and Oregon on the south. On the east, Washington is bordered by Idaho and on the west; it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean.

Major rivers in the state include the Columbia, the Snake and the Yakima Rivers.

Washington, the only state named after a President, has six distinct geographic land areas: The Olympic Mountains, the Coast Range, the Puget Sound Lowlands, the Cascade Mountains, the Columbia Plateau and the Rocky Mountains. Parts of the Olympic Mountains are so rugged they have never been explored, and most of the area lies within Olympic National Park. The Cascade Mountains include Mount Rainier, the highest point in Washington, and Mount St. Helens, an active volcano which erupted in 1980. A portion of the Rocky Mountains cuts across the northeast corner of Washington and contains many valuable minerals such as copper, lead, limestone, magnesite, silver and zinc.

Approximately three-fourths of the state's population lives in the Puget Sound Lowlands, an area around Puget Sound. Most of southern and central Washington is covered by the Columbia Plateau and is part of the largest lava plateau in the world. One unusual feature of the Columbia Plateau are "coulees" or dry canyons with steep walls cut into the lava thousands of years ago. These canyons were formed during a time when glaciers blocked the Columbia River and the rushing water carved trenches across the plateau. When the glaciers retreated, and the Columbia River returned to its course, these trenches dried up. Grand Coulee Dam is constructed in one of these areas.


In the mid-1700s, two groups of explorers and settlers converged on the area that is now Washington. First, Russian fur traders had crossed the Bering Strait and began to settle in the area we now know as Alaska. Meanwhile, Spanish explorers led by Bruno Heceta came north from California. They landed near present-day Point Grenville in 1775 and claimed the Washington region for Spain. Spain continued to explore Washington in an attempt to prevent Russian traders from claiming land further south than Alaska.

About twenty years later, George Vancouver explored most of the Washington coast and Puget Sound and claimed the land for England. Other British explorers came into Washington from Canada in the early 1800s. However, in 1792, the new nation of the United States also began to lay claim to parts of Washington, as Robert Gray explored the Columbia River. By 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had arrived in the area as part of their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase and further strengthened the claim by the U.S.

The most important attraction for these early explorers was the lucrative fur trade, particularly the fur of the sea otter. In 1810, a trading post was established near Spokane. In 1811, John Jacob Astor funded Fort Okanogan, the first permanent American settlement in Washington. After the War of 1812, the U.S. and England agreed, in 1818, that settlers from both countries could move into Washington, which was still officially part of the Oregon Country. In 1825, John McLoughlin of the British Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Vancouver.

In 1846, Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty that established the 49th parallel as the border between the United States and Canada, making Washington officially part of the U.S. By 1850, more than 1,000 people had settled in Washington, and Washington Territory was established as a separate area from the Oregon Country in 1853.

The first territorial governor, Isaac I. Stevens, wanted to settle territorial disputes with the Native American inhabitants of the area, and to improve transportation in the area. Stevens negotiated treaties with the Indians in 1855, but the treaties did not really settle anything, and there was intermittent conflict and violence between settlers and Indians for the next three years. This conflict delayed construction on the northern part of the transcontinental railway. In 1858, the Indians in the area surrendered at Four Lakes, and agreed to move onto reservations, and the 1860s brought thousands of new settlers to the area as gold was discovered in the surrounding areas of Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. No significant deposits of gold were ever discovered in Washington, but many settlers remained to farm or to work in logging camps. By 1883, the railroad finally connected Washington with the East, and more settlers followed. Washington became the 42nd state in 1889.

Increased irrigation during the 1890s brought more farmers to Washington to plan fruit orchards and wheat fields. Railroad expansion allowed the coastal cities to become important port centers.


Water is central to the economy of Washington, and although the state borders the Pacific Ocean, it is the Columbia River that has the greatest impact. From its earliest use by Native Americans as a travel route and a source of salmon in their diet to the more modern use of hydroelectric power generated by the Grand Coulee Dam, the Columbia River is crucial.

Along with the Columbia River, the Snake River and the Yakima River contribute to the irrigation system that is required for successful agriculture in the area. This irrigation enables Washington to support a successful food processing industry that includes fruit production, vineyards, and dairy farming. Washington leads the nation in the production of apples, sweet cherries and pears. The state is also a major producer of wheat, corn, onions, potatoes, apricots, grapes and other fruits. There are also abundant fishing resources including salmon, halibut, bottom fish, oysters, and crabs.

More than half the state's area is forested, so the lumber and wood-products industries have always been important to the state of Washington. Many of the state's cities, including Tacoma, Bellingham, and Seattle, began as sawmill centers, and lumber, pulp and paper are among their major products.

Other important industries in Washington include chemicals and primary metals, particularly aluminum. There are rich aluminum and magnesium ores found in the Okanogan Highlands, and the availability of water power has made Washington one of the nation's major producers of refined aluminum.

First Inhabitants:

Between 12,000 and 16,000 years ago, a group of nomadic hunters crossed the frozen Bering Strait from Siberia into present-day Alaska and eventually moved further south into the Pacific Northwest. Although distinct communities developed over time, all of these native groups were dependent upon the land and the water for their livelihood. Most of their lives revolved around fishing, the smoking and drying of fish, and moving across the land in search of fish. They lived in waterside villages of cedar plant houses. Another distinctive feature of these groups was their building of totem poles, which tell the stories of families, clans and individuals.

Many Native Americans lived in the Washington region when European explorers first visited the area. Groups living west of the Cascade Mountains include the Chinook, Nisqually, Quinault, and Puyallup. Others, the Cayuse, Colville, Spokane, and Nez Perce, lived east of the Cascades on the plains and valleys.

One of the best known of the Native Americans in this area was Chief Seattle, who is believed to have born in central Puget Sound. Chief Seattle was a member of the Suquamish people and welcomed the first European traders and settlers, eager to trade with them. Unfortunately, Seattle's efforts to work with Europeans made some of his own people suspicious. Eventually, his people were defeated and Seattle died on a reservation.

Books Related To Washington

All-American Girl - Meg Cabot
(978-0061479892) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 880, ESL level: 3 - 4
A teen girl has a busy sophomore year after she gains the role of Teen Ambassador to the UN, foils a Presidential murder attempt, and attracts the First Son.

Annie's War - Jacqueline Sullivan
(978-0802853547) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-7, Lexile: 760, ESL level: 3
During WWII, Annie finds she must use her imagination to help her cope with her stressful living situation and the fact that her father, a fighter in the Army Air Corps, is missing in action.

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It - Sundee Frazier
(385-734395) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-6, Lexile: 630, ESL level: 3 - 4
Bi-racial Brendan tries to link up with his white grandfather because of their shared interest in minerals and rocks.

E is for Evergreen: A Washington State Alphabet - Roland Smith
(978-1585361434) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Washington.

The Ghost's Grave - Peg Kehret
(978-0142408193) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3
Josh, while spending a summer with an aunt, soon gets into his new life after he meets a coal miner's ghost in this scary but also humorous book.

The Ghost, the White House, and Me - Judith St. George
(978-0823420452) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-6, Lexile: 800, ESL level: 3 - 4
KayKay enjoys living in the White House with her mother a female President of the U.S. until she discovers a ghost lives with them; read about the practical jokes she plays on her mother as a result!

Grape Thief - Kristine Franklin
(978-0763613259) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 650, ESL level: 3 - 4
A young schoolboy finds his struggles to stay in school and get enough to eat similar to those of his classmates who have a wide variety of ethnic identities.

Gym Candy - Carl Deuker
(978-1606863763) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-11, Lexile: 710, ESL level: 4
Mick makes the mistake of using steroids in order to enhance his high school football performance after being pressured by his father to win, win, win.

N is for Our Nation's Capital - Roland Smith
(978-1585361489) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about Washington D.C.

The Rhyming Season - Edward Averett
(978-0618469482) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 600, ESL level: 4
After her brother Is killed in a car accident, Brenda tries to reinspire her dying mill town's citizens and ease her family's grief by winning the state basketball tournament.

Seaglass Summer - Anjali Banerjee
(385-735677) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-7, Lexile: 590, ESL level: 3
Poppy is not sure she still wants to become a vet after helping out in her uncle's veterinary clinic.

The Stranger Next Door - Peg Kehret
(978-0142412480) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 3 - 4
Twelve-year-old boys become friends after both of their families move to the same neighborhood, all because of a cat.

The Trouble with May Amelia - Jennifer Holm
(978-1416913733) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-7, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 3
A young Finnish-American woman, the only female among 8 siblings, tries to save her farm when a slick buyer turns up to take it away from her family.

Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family - Lensey Namioka
(978-0440412311) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-7, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 3
Yingmei experiences cultural differences when trying to be an "American"" at school while her family at home sticks to their old Chinese beliefs."

Famous Citizens:

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Donald Cobain, born in Aberdeen, Washington, was a sickly, anti-social and depressed child who went on to lead the band Nirvana, the "grunge" band that redefined the sound of the nineties and kicked off what became known as the "Seattle sound." The band's song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became Nirvana's most highly acclaimed song, and made Cobain and the band overnight millionaires. This new-found wealth and Kurt's ongoing bouts with depression and his drug use came together in his eventual suicide in 1994 at the early age of 27.

Bing Crosby
Born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, "Bing" began singing with a local group while a student at Gonzaga University. By 1925, Crosby went to Los Angeles and developed a singing act. When he became a solo star on the radio, he soon became a popular singing idol, and began to appear in movies. His relaxed "crooning" style was especially popular among Americans during the Depression years, and his comedic timing on stage made him a hit both as a singer and as a performer. He starred in more than 100 movies, and won an Oscar for his role as a priest in Going My Way. By 1943, he was among the top ten box office attractions for 12 years.

Hank Ketcham
Born in Seattle, Washington, Hank Ketcham attended the University of Washington, and then went on to Hollywood and began working for Walter Lantz Productions and then Walt Disney Productions as a film animator. He worked on Disney's Pinocchio and Fantasia. In 1951, he developed the idea for a panel comic strip based on his four-year-old son, Dennis. Dennis the Menace earned Ketcham an award as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 1952.

Capital: Olympia
Entered Union: November 11, 1889
Population: 7,061,530
Area 71,300
Bird Willow Goldfinch
Flower Pink Rhododendron
Nickname: Evergreen State
Governor Jay Inslee

Places to Visit in Washington: (Click the links to learn more.)

Grand Coulee Dam - Coulee Dam
The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest concrete dam in North America and the third largest producer of electricity in the world. The Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942 and provides hydropower, flood control, irrigation and recreation to 500,000 acres of farmland in the Columbia Basin. The Visitors Center provides guided tours of the dam as well as exhibits related to its history, construction, and the landscape surrounding the dam.

The Space Needle - Seattle
The Space Needle was built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair and was designed by Edward E. Carlson. The Space Needle was finished in December 1961 at a cost of $4.5 million. The Needle is Seattle's number one tourist destination, and its observation deck, 520 feet high, provides a 360-degree view of Seattle and its surroundings.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument - near Castle Rock
On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted and nearly 230 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead. The eruption lasted nine hours and ash rose thousands of feet skyward and then fell over eastern Washington and beyond. In 1982, Congress created the 110,000 acre National Volcanic Monument for research and education. Within the acreage of the Monument, the environment has been left alone to respond naturally to the eruption and its aftermath. There is an observatory, visitor center and a cave to visit.

Klondike Gold Rush Park - Seattle
In 1897, news of a gold strike in the Canadian Yukon reached Seattle and tens of thousands of people from across the US came to Seattle to purchase food, clothing, equipment and steamship tickets to the Yukon. This "gold rush" shaped the history of Seattle. The site provides gold panning demonstrations, a walking tour of the Pioneer Square Historical District and other exhibits and audiovisual programs.

Fort Vancouver Historical Site - Vancouver
Fort Vancouver was the administrative headquarters and mail supply center for the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trading operation. Fort Vancouver provided the pioneers who arrived in the area during the 1830s and 1840s supplies to begin new settlements. The site includes living history demonstrations, an archaeology site, and reconstruction of the Fort.